Documents/The Opportunity Society/Education and Skills/
Position Paper on Higher Education & Training
At a glance
As a country, we must support universities in creating the learning environment that allows them to produce more graduates of quality.
The DA has identified seven issues which we believe to be fundamental to the development of a high quality tertiary education system. These include:
- academic freedom;
- learning environment;
- growing graduate timber;
- administrative environment;
- student funding; and
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The percentage of South Africans aged 20-24 who are enrolled in higher education is about 16%. For the developed world the average figure is over 60%. In South Korea it is 91%. As a country, we must support universities in creating the learning environment that allows them to produce more graduates of quality.
The DA has identified seven issues which we believe to be fundamental to the development of a high quality tertiary education system:
1. Academic Freedom
The best universities in the world are those headed by leading, internationally recognised academics. The state has a duty to fund universities, and to base this funding on objective criteria relating to the country’s skills needs. Beyond this, it must remove itself completely from involvement in curricula, admission processes, staff, facilities, or any other issue relating to the day-to-day operation of universities. The DA will fiercely defend this right. We will also promote the key conditions for the success of tertiary institutions – making excellence and competence the key criteria for staff recruitment. This is essential to offer the best education to a new generation and to reverse the legacy of apartheid.
The DA believes that the tertiary education sector needs to be restructured to make it more able to meet the many complementary needs of the country and the youth.
Thus, the Democratic Alliance proposes a three-sphere system, each one of which is defined by excellence and fitness-for-purpose; and serves an essential objective:
- Our research universities must be able to compete with the best in the world, they must produce graduates of outstanding quality and, in order to do so, entrance exams must be rigorous, courses taught must be internationally competitive and research output must be internationally reviewed. In order to do this they must receive the requisite funding, they must be able to employ qualified teachers, offer good infrastructure and design benchmarked courses.
- Our universities of technology must be able to produce internationally benchmarked artisans and technicians with an excellent skills set. Thus, students are able to emerge from these institutions with enough knowledge and confidence to start their own business or, otherwise, to be employed in their particular sector because they bring high quality expertise and training.
- Our further education and training colleges must serve as spring boards of technological and vocational skills sets, able to elevate any person in need of further training to a new level where they can either continue to study or successfully find a place in the market. In order to do this, they too must be centres of excellence.
All three of these institutions are equally critical to South Africa’s future, and all three must become centers of excellence, so that every South African can become the best they can be and have absolute faith that there exists a world-class set of institutions designed to meet their requirements and adequately equip them to compete, not just in the South African market, but anywhere in the world.
3. Learning environment
The environment in which students learn and interact is critical for their intellectual development. A lot of the detail on creating an appropriate learning environment is not, and should not be, the responsibility of the state. But the state does nevertheless have certain important roles to play. It must, for example, help to make universities safe, with adequate policing, and accessible, with adequate public transport.
In addition, while the state must not be involved in deciding who is appointed or removed from any position at a university, it does have a responsibility to give public backing to all efforts to ensure clean administration, because no university can function if it is managed poorly.
4. Growing graduate timber
Our government is committed to doubling the number of science and engineering PhDs by 2018. But we are unlikely to reach this, because we are graduating less than half the number of students we would need to.
A DA national government would help to address this problem firstly by ensuring that the formula for funding universities is appropriate. We cannot, for example, focus exclusively on teaching as opposed to research, as has been suggested. We must also avoid goal displacement, where excellence and quality of teaching are secondary to other goals. Institutions must be measured on those issues that are relevant to their core mandate.
The government of the Western Cape is making its own contribution to this by creating a postgraduate programme of study in fields where we have a comparative advantage or special opportunities, including coastal conservation, food security, infectious disease management and technologies for green public housing.
5. Administrative environment
College and university lecturers do their best work in an environment that is purpose-oriented, efficient, stable and predictable. Students perform best when they have excellent registration procedures, academic plans, timetables, examining and testing services and teaching.
To the extent that the tertiary sector is poorly governed, the state should be doing all it can help create stable and predictably efficient administrative environments.
The fact is that the majority of the badly run universities are those described as historically disadvantaged. The DA would like to draw attention to the fundamental task of transforming (and by this we mean radically improving) the administrative capacity of historically disadvantaged universities to support teaching and research.
6. Student funding
No deserving student should be denied access to tertiary education through lack of funds. The existing system of student financial aid, the National Student Financial Assistance Sytem or NSFAS should be supported and coverage expanded. Loan repayments should be enforced, but state bursaries could also be linked to community service or other alternative repayment options.
A tax rebate system provides interesting opportunities for students lacking funding for further studies. The DA proposes a tax rebate equivalent to one-third of tuition fees which would be available to students or their parents for a maximum of four years of successful study.
The DA believes that the ultimate decision on the medium of instruction at any university must be taken by tertiary institutions themselves. The state must respect the independence of these institutions and allow them to go through the internal processes necessary to make this decision. The government should only intervene where supply and demand, on a national or regional basis, are seriously out of balance, or where students are denied access to specialist courses offered by only one or two institutions because of the language of instruction.
The state and the tertiary education sector, working together, should help to develop realistic goals and objectives on language policy and language rights. A DA government will, for example, offer a number of bursaries for tertiary study in indigenous language departments.
South Africa desperately needs to improve the participation rates of young people at our higher education institutions. This is necessary for us to move from being a mineral-and-manufacturing-based society to a knowledge-based one. Higher education is also important for democracy, insofar as it encourages individuals to think for themselves, make independent judgments and know enough about their rights to exercise them with rigor and responsibility.
The DA will drive the question of quality and accessible higher education over the term of the 4th Parliament. We will actively participate in discussions and decisions about any changes to the funding formula for higher education and training.